King-Byng Affair

The 1926 constitutional showdown between William Lyon Mackenzie King and Governor General Lord Byng that would set new limits on the political role of the GG.

In the September 1925 election the incumbent Liberals came second to the Conservatives, with 101 to 116 seats respectively. However, King worked out an agreement with the Progressive Party, which won 28 seats, to maintain the balance of power and maintain his government.

By March of 1926, a growing corruption scandal cost the Liberals the support of the Progressives, and King visited the GG, seeking the dissolution of Parliament and a general election.

To King’s (and pretty well everyone else’s) surprise, Byng refused the request and instead invited the Conservative Leader, Arthur Meighen, to form government.

The Meighen government lasted only a few brief weeks, succumbing to its first confidence vote and prompting an election after all. King and the Liberals made GG Byng’s “political interference” the centerpiece of the 1926 election campaign. They also made an electoral pact with the Progressives, with each party refraining from running against the other’s incumbent MPs. The gambit worked and they were elected to a stable minority, with solid Progressive support.

At the 1926 Imperial Conference, the newly re-elected King sought – and achieved – changes that limited the role of the Governor General. Scholars have disagreed about who was right in King-Byng, though the crafty King indisputably won the showdown with his hardball politics.

Indications are that King-Byng was very much on both Stephen Harper’s and Governor General Michaele Jean’s minds in 2008, when the Prime Minister sought to block a proposed Liberal-NDP coalition, and the GG supported him.

Image source: Wikimedia

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